The highest run-getter in ODI cricket is Indian. The highest wicket-taker in ODI cricket is Indian. But India have never won a world title.
The highest-runs record was broken in 2017. The highest-wickets record was also broken in 2017. But one slip-up, and India will exit the 2017 Women's World Cup without even making it to the semi-finals.
If you ever wanted proof that cricket is a team game, you have it now.
Ahead of India’s virtual quarter-final against New Zealand, both Mithali Raj and Jhulan Goswami – holders of the aforementioned records — called for a team performance, not just individual brilliance.
“It is a decider. It is again going to be important that the team needs to step up… It’s a team game,” said Raj, after India’s eight-wicket loss to Australia in Bristol. India’s total of 226 proved a stroll in the park for Australia. The final league match at Derby – where they have played three times before – will now decide who packs their bags and flies home.
India have some cause for optimism against New Zealand. Both teams have lost two games, and in the two that the Kiwis did lose, they lost their top five to spin nine out of ten times. That fact should have weighed heavily in India’s favour, except that the Indian spinners were off-colour in their last game.
Against Australia, despite bowling on a slow track that had some turn, India’s four spinners went for combined figures of 183 runs in 34 overs, which is nearly 5.4 runs an over.
“The bowling unit didn’t feel like they were effective or they were creating some opportunity,” said Raj of the bowlers’ show in Bristol. “It didn’t seem as if the wicket was on a slower side, they (Australia) just got their shots going.”
Ekta Bisht, India’s most experienced spinner, went for 55 runs in her 10 overs in that game. Since claiming a five-for against Pakistan, her performances have tailed off. She has figures of 3 for 171 in three games, at 5.8 runs an over. Unlike the more languid speeds she employed in the tournament opener against England, she has often been bowling flatter and faster, and her economy rate has risen just as quickly.
On the other hand, India will need to wary of New Zealand’s spinners. Like most teams, they too have adopted a pace-off-the-ball strategy, and have played three specialist spinners in some games. Two of those, 16-year-old leg-spinner Amelia Kerr and off-spinner Leigh Kasperek, are among the tournament’s top-10 wicket takers.
Besides, the batting is still an area of concern for India, despite Punam Raut’s resolute century against Australia. In a rare frank moment after she broke the World Record, Raj admitted that she felt the burden of nearly single-handedly carrying the Indian batting lineup.
“Coming into the World Cup, considering how the team has been performing in the last two years, I felt that it was the right time for me to elevate my own batting standards in the tournament. But again it has come back to the same phase where me being in the middle gives a lot of confidence to the other batswomen,” Raj said.
Goswami too called on all three departments to fire. “As a team unit, as a team, together we need to perform," she said, speaking after the team’s net session at Derby. “Individual brilliance will not win you a tournament. Batting, bowling and fielding will have to perform together, because they (New Zealand) are a good side fitness-wise,” Goswami added.
The fitness element Goswami referred to was on display in New Zealand’s game against Pakistan last week. Sophie Devine smashed nine sixes while scoring 93 off 41 balls to set a new world record on the same day that India bore the brunt of Lizelle Lee’s power hitting against South Africa. All-rounder Devine will most likely only play as a batswoman in Saturday’s game though she is yet to fully recover a side-strain she picked up in their previous game.
India are far from a great team, despite having two of the all-time greats in the XI. They will need to play in harmony – fielders supporting bowlers, batswomen making up for each other if they are to beat New Zealand, who India have only beaten once before in World Cups.
Raj put it best. “If I was a player, and I had two players who were the highest wicket-taker and highest run-scorer, I would be proud to have them. But as a player I would want to see to it that I support them equally when required. Individual milestones are good, but it’s a team game. If you don’t win matches, nobody would want to be on a losing side and celebrate the milestones you achieve.”